Progression in the field of gender equality is an ongoing challenge and has been for decade upon decade. It will probably remain a challenge for many years to come. That challenge arises not least due to inequality relating to matters such equal pay and sexual harassment and discrimination but also towards the way society tackles and confronts attitudes and issues such as rape, alienation and objectification. Women have always and continue to combat this as best they can, through dialogue, debate, creative protest, argument and through NGO’s, charities and organisations.
It will not be enough by this alone, however. As a man I know full well we live in a male dominated world, a male dominated society. As long as the sky is blue and the clouds are grey and white, this will remain so because men are particularly good at trying to push their voice, their attitude, their singular perceptions to the forefront at the expense of women. They have been content to allow women to share the spotlight, the dialogue space on a speculative and transitory basis but it has not become a permanent fixture. As a man, I contend that it must become a permanent fixture if we really want to see gender equality and a real end to mixed attitudes and reactions towards domestic abuse, rape, psychological abuse and other forms of muting the female voice.
That’s why I was overjoyed to see The Sharan Project get its due by no less a person that Prime Minister David Cameron and by No 10 Downing Street. The hierarchy of power is learning who the faces are and getting used to the sound of their voices.
My book ‘The Butterfly Room’ was a learning process for me as a man. I’ve always been a fan of the bullied, the oppressed,the voiceless, sticking up for them in whatever way I can. They say one hand doesn’t clap. I might just be that one hand but there are other men who believe in fighting for women’s rights but I found researching my book that they’re either too lazy to try, too fearful that they will be viewed with suspicion and others who feel other men will view them as “kind of puny”. That’s what one man said to me when I asked him why he didn’t believe in sticking up for women’s rights.He was worried about what other men would think about his masculinity. He worried he might even be asked if he was gay or bisexual. For me and for the other men who take part in this battle, every woman is a mother, a daughter, a sister.
I’d tell every man that it really is the little things that help. If you’re afraid to put your voice out there for others to see and hear, to judge you, then at least help in another way, by donating to rape crisis shelters or organisations just like The Sharan Project, by writing to your MP to urge them to support the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, for example.
I’ll be frank, it’s not enough to turn up every few months, have some Perrier water, eat a few samosas or salmon and cucumber sandwiches and feel upset when you hear about how a woman was raped and kicked out of her house or any other horrific story. It’s about even asking the women and girls in your life about their experiences, understanding that if their answers shock you, it’s not about your reaction, it’s about their story and why they felt they couldn’t even share it before you asked them.
It also starts with another more obvious element. You’d be surprised how many men view ‘feminists’ with suspicion, they’re ‘fembots’ or ‘feminist robots’ who hate men, who are lesbians and no one would want to marry. Sounds bizarre but again starting to understand these organisations is part of the process. Come to the talks, seek out the writers, playwrights, musicians, authors, charities and speakers on the subject and educate yourself. I say this to women as well, those who are also reluctant to inject their effort into the debate and are afraid to be viewed as ‘agitators’.
I know there are other men who want to play a role in women’s rights, I never thought I would despite writing about it but I learnt from ‘The Butterfly Room’ that women might be bullied but they refuse to allow the bully to speak out on their behalf which is what will happen if enough men AND women don’t work together.
So men do need to do their part and move beyond conjecture and appraisal a few times a year or pay lip service. It’s time they realise that their pride and ego needs to be dented in the name of progress and to shut the bullies up once and for all.
I’d suggest they make a start by educating themselves. Every woman who reads this who has a brother, a father, a son in law, a relative who is a man, show them what The Sharan Project does, watch the videos, hear their founder Polly Harrar speak, read the blogs, the accounts from survivors and be a part of the process, not an observer.